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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The humanity of ‘The Last of Us’ makes it stand out

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Art from the video game "The Last of Us" is pictured.

Based on the hit Naughty Dogaction-adventure game of the same name, HBO’s “The Last of Us'' (2023–) took the world by storm, with the premiere episode racking up 4.7 million viewers. The critically acclaimed series is set in a post-apocalyptic United States ridden with zombie-esque creatures infected by a mutated fungus, ‘Cordyceps.’ It follows Joel (Pedro Pascal), a world-weary smuggler who lost his daughter Sarah on the day of the outbreak, as he travels across the country escorting Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a young girl immune to the virus. The series focuses on the pair’s growing bond and their father-daughter connection, while also highlighting humanity in a post-apocalyptic world. 

Created by Craig Mazin, creator of “Chernobyl” (2019–), and Neil Druckmann, co-creator of the video game, “The Last of Us” is a beautiful examination of humanity, emotion and what it means to survive. Nowhere is this more present than in episode 3, “Long, Long Time.” This episode pivots away from Joel and Ellie’s journey to focus on the intimate relationship between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). 

“Long, Long Time” centers around Bill, a paranoid survivalist and a closeted gay man, learning to let love into his heart after striking up a romance with the more easygoing Frank. This is a huge deviation from the video game, where Frank left Bill due to his paranoia, but it works to perfection. 

Both performances are spectacular, particularly Offerman’s, and director Peter Hoar is able to capture something deeply touching. The showrunners succeeded in depicting a mature gay relationship, something completely unexpected in a zombie apocalypse show. Seeing the couple’s journey together and their ability to live a peaceful life in this grueling post-apocalyptic world is powerful. Bill and Frank’s story shows how love and humanity still exist in this awful world, reminding Joel to also let love into his heart.

That’s what makes “The Last of Us”stand out from stories in the same genre. The action and visuals are breathtaking, but they take a backseat to story and character. Mazin and Druckmann aim to depict — as the title suggests — the last of humanity; both the good and the bad. Like with Bill and Frank, the series seeks to depict profoundly human stories, such as in episode 5 with the powerful brotherly love of Sam and Henry or episode 8 with David and his disturbing cult.

However, building this world does not detract from the depiction of the complex lead characters of Joel and Ellie and their budding father-daughter relationship. These themes of humanity and accepting love are delicately woven into Joel and Ellie’s arcs. In episode 6, for instance, we see the stoic Joel be very vulnerable with his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna), coming to terms with his anxiety and fear of losing someone close to him again. Pascal portrays this vulnerability beautifully and captures the suppressed anxiety at the core of Joel’s character. Ramsey, too, shines in episodes 7 and 8. The young actress exhibits this extreme fierceness and desperation to survive, all while still reminding us that Ellie is a kid who has no business being in the situations she is in. Their character arcs come to a head in the haunting season finale when Joel, not wanting to see another daughter of his die, saves Ellie instead of letting her brain be removed to produce a vaccine. 

Joel’s decision is a profoundly human one. The audience recognizes that he is dooming the world and making the wrong decision, but still wants to see Ellie survive and understands Joel’s sin. “The Last of Us” is a story of humanity and how, even as society collapses, humans will always be human — with both the good and the bad. “The Last of Us” is one of the best video game adaptations of all time, expanding on an already incredible character-driven story with breathtaking visuals, terrific performances and extremely effective world-building.

Summary “The Last of Us” is one of the best video game adaptations of all time, expanding on an already incredible character-driven story with breathtaking visuals, terrific performances, and extremely effective world-building.
4.5 Stars